I wake up thinking it is going to be a stroll in the park. 8 hours later I find myself still stuck with only a few names. I start calling a few of my regular respected respondents to help me make a choice of the greatest Right-full back in 60 years of Nigerian football. Like me, they come up with only a few names too.
8 hours later, I make up my mind that the right-full back position, known these days as right wing-back, is not the most attractive of positions in Nigerian football, otherwise why do we have such few ‘giant’ names? Many have played the role, but rather than choose the right-back position originally, most were converted to the position as an alternative to their first choice. The list is long. Only a very few started out in the national team seeking to play in that position and held on to it.
These names finally come to mind:
Tony Igwe, Andrew Atuegbu, Patrick Ekeji, Annas Ahmed, David Adiele, Reuben Agboola, Augustine Eguavoen, Mobi Oparaku, Joseph Yobo,
Abdul Sule, Kingsley Paul, and Efe Ambrose.
Coach Alabi Aissien was sweeping in his selection and choice. He mentions two names. Every other right-full back, as far as he is concerned, was good but not good enough for his choice as the greatest. He can’t remember memorable moments of any of them to discuss.
Obong Dele Adetiba’s reaction is almost the same. He comes up with the same two names as Coach Aissien.
I call up my childhood friend whose memory these past few days has been phenomenal and his private reactions very interesting to add his voice. His conversation was the shortest. Only one player fulfils the criteria Yakubu Ibn Mohammed set for whoever would be the ‘greatest’ in the country’s history.
I call up Godwin Dudu-Orumen, the encyclopedia, to help me out.
He comes up with only a few names too. Then I realise the truth of the situation.
I decide to make one last contact in hope of more choices. I call up Jos, the Technical Director of the NFF, my colleague in the Green Eagles, former assistant coach of the Super Eagles, Bitrus Bewarang. What is striking is that the choices are very narrow.
The great shock for me is that no one mentioned, or even remembered, one of the great full backs that I admired the most whilst he was in the National team. He reminded me of Tony Igwe. He was beautiful to watch, a supremely hard, intelligent and confident overlapping wing-back, Chidi Odiah. Whatever happened to him? Where is he now?
I am looking forward to choices from the reading public different from those selected here by these 5 experts. Enjoy.
- Obong Dele Adetiba – Broadcaster /Advertising Guru
Tony Igwe, ‘World 2’. He was the earliest player to demonstrate the power of a thinking defender. Culturally, defenders were supposed to hit people, get the ball, not allow attackers get past them, kick the ball high up the field or out of play. But Tony put some finesse into the full-back defending position. He had good control of the ball, got the movement up-field going rather than just clearing the ball. His greatest contribution to defending was that one could be a good defender without just clearing the ball out of danger.
Tony started the culture of leaving his base and starting an attack. The overlapping concept can also be traced to him.
Tony was physically built for the full back position. He was beautiful to watch overlapping. He was good looking, lithe, and endowed by nature for that position. He was the very best. That why he was called the undisputed, World 2. He is my choice.
Patrick Ekeji. He was very strong, powerful, fast, and intelligent. He was not easy to beat at all by forwards. He was of the old school of defenders, and got the ball often out of the danger zone. He was not very much in the mode of Tony even though he also overlapped because of his incredible speed. He was more efficient, and fitted the image of a full back of those days. He was an athlete.
- ‘Professor’ Alabi Aissien – former national coach
Tony Igwe, World 2’. He was a great player. He was a pioneer of overlapping that later became the vogue. He introduced the overlapping style and did it beautifully and very well.
Patrick Ekeji. At his best, shortly before the 1980 African Cup of Nations, he chose to go for his Master’s Degree in Germany rather than play in the Championship. That was `Nigeria’s loss of a truly great and resourceful player. He could read the game, he related with the middle of the defense perfectly, and helped even when the middle was ordinary. He could paralyse that flank and totally dominate it.
He was strong. He was classy. There was something to say for the influence of his education on his football. He was easily the best. Pat Ekeji is my choice.
Yisa Sofoluwe. He also briefly played in that position and could read the game very well, but he was only one of other celebrated right backs.
- Yakubu Ibn Mohammed – Journalist, DG, NTA
Tony Igwe. It is very easy for me. Only one name readily comes to mind. Tony ‘Parkins’ Igwe was simply marvelous. He was good in the air as well as on the turf. He was always joining the attack even before overlapping became a fashionable attribute of full backs. He was tireless and stylish, and was every left wingers nightmare.
Tony, World 2, is my choice.
- Godwin Dudu Orumen –Broadcaster, Journalist, marketer, Administrator
Tony Igwe. Member of the Sam Garba-led Nigeria Academicals of 1965. He was very good on the tackle, good with interceptions and went forward to join attacks comfortably for Stationary Stores, ECN and the Green Eagles. My choice is Tony.
Patrick Ekeji. He was big, strong and very quick for his size. He joined the attack very well and recovered to join in solid defending for his team.
Reuben Agboola was originally a centre half at Southampton, but debuted for the Super Eagles under Westerhof. Making the Eagles even in the twilight of his career only rated him behind Igwe and Ekeji, even with his brain play of very good interceptions, ability to be in the right position all the time, and always delivering the ball forwards accurately instead of doing the overlap. Great player and one of the most disciplined players ever to wear Nigeria’s colours.
- Bitrus Bewarang – Ex-international, Coach
Annas Ahmed was a great overlapping, very skillful, right full back. But he was really a Ghanaian playing for Nigeria.
My choice would have been Nduka Ugbade because he played for and captained the national Under-17, Under-20, and Under 23. He would have been the first player to rise through all the levels into the national team for his great performances and leadership from the right full back, but was dropped on the eve of the 1994 World Cup because Westerhof said he was inexperienced. He would have been the model right-full back if only he had played for the senior national team.
Tony Igwe was also very good.
However, it will be Patrick Ekeji for the first choice because he had some additional advantages over all others – very long throws, very powerful shots, speed, his high level of intelligence as a result of his education, and his overlapping skills at the right time.
So, for me, my choice is Patrick Ekeji.